R&D Engineer Sindhu Sreedhar never officially “came out” to her coworkers. It just kind of happened organically as a matter of circumstance.
“When I joined Toyota as a co-op, I didn’t really talk about it,” Sreedhar says. “But someone who sat next to me – her spouse was the chair of Spectrum at R&D. He actually founded it, and that’s how I first learned about it.”
Full of Pride – R&D Engineer Sindhu Sreedhar is chair of the Ann Arbor Spectrum chapter. She’s compiling coming out stories from team members across the company.
is Toyota’s business partnering group supporting LGBTQ+ and Ally team members. Sreedhar went to one meeting as a co-op. But when she joined Toyota full-time, she began attending regularly. Now, she’s the chair of R&D’s Ann Arbor chapter.
Sreedhar knows not everyone feels comfortable sharing that part of their identity, but she wants to help make it a little easier.
She’s collecting coming out stories from LGBTQ+ team members across the company and compiling them into a book, slated to publish in October. She hopes that by sharing team member experiences, it will help others feel more connected and less afraid of being themselves.
“I want people to know that no matter what your experience is, it’s valid,” Sreedhar says. “We’re not just talking about coming out in the workplace. But, we do have many team members who are worried about being fired if they come out. At Toyota, you can’t be fired for your sexual orientation or gender identity.”
In fact, part of Toyota's commitment to creating and maintaining a work environment free of discrimination and harassment is the company's commitment of equal opportunity to everyone, regardless of a number of protected characteristics that include sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. And as of this month, LGTBQ+ employment discrimination is illegal in the United States under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
But even if your job is safe, some may worry about being treated differently by coworkers.
“Maybe they’re worried that by coming out they may not have a good relationship with coworkers anymore,” Sreedhar says. “I want them to know, through this project, that a lot of other people have been through this, and we can support you.”
Power in Numbers – Sreedhar, pictured here with members of the Ann Arbor chapter of Spectrum, hopes that by sharing other coming out stories, team members will feel empowered to be their whole selves at work.
Sreedhar feels the message is equally important for people who don’t identify as LGBTQ+.
“It can be a hidden identity,” she says. “I think there’s a lot of people who don’t know someone openly LGBTQ+. The more LGBTQ+ people you know, the more accepting you are. And you can’t fully feel that empathy until you know their story.”
Sreedhar plans to have a digital version of the book shareable soon, before launching the published copies in October. Ultimately, she hopes that by sharing team members’ stories, others will feel more comfortable being themselves at work.
“It’s not a requirement to come out at work, or anywhere. You don’t have to be out in any part of your life. But for many who are, it has made their lives whole. Yes, it’s scary. But you can be your whole, wonderful self. And that feels really good.”
If you’d like to share your story with Sindhu, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
By Kristen Orsborn